Normally, I consider myself to be very moderate and often apathetic when considering politics. However, after having visited Israel three years ago (the Gregorian day of yesterday corresponded to מצדה (Masada)), I became more invested in following the situations that have come up in Israel.
When I was in Israel, the major political issue was the ongoing saga of גלעד שלית (Gilad Shalit). His release happened a few months after we returned from our trip, but other than those protests and some internal protests about dairy prices and housing prices, there was no unrest that I noticed in 2011. But, it has become unstable since then, with the kidnappings, the rocket attacks, and the threat of the terror tunnels.
I will not bore people with the details and propaganda of both sides here, other than what was said at the rally. This was the first time that I had ever attended a political rally, and I attended because I deemed a respite day from research to be needed after the grind of EXCEL had ended. I did have to do some grading for the final exams of EXCEL in the morning, but quit by 09:30 so as to catch an L to downtown.
Wearing my Birthright Israel Bus 247 shirt, I exited the L at Lake/State, and walked along Randolph Street toward the Thompson Center. At the corner of Randolph and Clark, the northwest corner hosted the Chicago Stands With Israel rally, and the southeast corner had a counter-protest. I suppose that any sort of rally will be met by a counterattack when there are two clear sides to it, or even if there are not.
There were signs that were provided by the Jewish United Fund for us to hold up, as well as mini-Israel and mini-American flags. My sign said “Chicago Stands With Israel” on the front, and “Stop Hamas Terror” on the back. There were people all over the plaza, from every walk of life, and not all of them appeared to be Jewish either. I was meandering around before the rally started, attempting to find people that I knew.
After a while, I found my Birthright trip leader, wearing the same shirt that I was wearing. (He also wrote a blog post about this event). Not far from him was Rabbi Kensky, so that I knew I was in good company. The Jewish community does bond over things that are important to them–community is a central tenet of Judaism in both the religious and cultural sense!
At 11:00, the rally started with singing the Israeli song עם ישראל חי (The People of Israel Live). Several speakers followed, speaking on experiences on Israel trips, spreading the idea that ordinary Palestinians are not the enemy but rather Hamas is, and going on just a long rant. His voice was occasionally drowned out by the yelling on the catty corner.
Senator Mark Kirk also spoke, pledging his solidarity with Israel, and showing support. Throughout the day, the speakers frequently talked about Israel’s right to defend itself, praising the Israel Defense Forces for their careful handling of the situation. Other speakers touched on imploring people to involve others, educate them about the situation, and just speak up. Part of the difficulty in today’s society is that there are so many non-trustworthy and biased news sources, and even now, it is difficult to evaluate them as to how trustworthy they are. There are always two sides to a story.
It wasn’t only Jewish and political faces speaking. The Reverend Roosevelt Watkins III, of a South Side church, pumped up our crowd with a moving speech about peace and harmony. It is very important to be backed by other groups that have suffered persecution, whether in Chicago (the poor communities on the West and South Sides), Israel, or anywhere around the world. This was followed by a singing of עושה שלום (Maker of Peace).
Judaism holds life in high regard, which is one of the reasons why Israel is not anti-ordinary-Palestinian. One of the later parts of the rally was a reading of the soldiers and Israelis that had lost their lives in the conflict, including their ages. Too many lives get cut too short in fighting–many of these losses were in their early and mid-20s, and some even still in their teens. The list was followed by אל מלעה רחמים (El Maleh Rachamim), a traditional recitation at a funeral. It was not followed by the קדיש יתום (Mourner’s Kaddish) which slightly surprised me.
The Consul General followed with remarks, and then at the end of the rally, the music concluded with us all singing the Star Spangled Banner, followed by התקוה (HaTikvah, the Israeli national anthem). The latter is often very emotional to me, such as at the Independence Museum or at Theodor Herzl’s grave. It was again today, although the emotion was confined to the inside.
Overall, I thought that it was an effective rally. It was a rally for peace, but unfortunately defending one’s country is necessary when terrorists vow to attack. I cannot read Arabic, so although I have heard propaganda about how the Hamas charter allegedly includes the destruction of Israel, I have learned that trusting propaganda is one point where people can get into trouble, such as in World War II and many other times.
One of the most powerful lines that I heard from the rally: “Peace is not the absence of conflict. It is the ability to resolve conflict without violence.” I think that this is the key, but when one or both sides are using violence, peace can never happen. As it says in the Prophets, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares; their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they experience war any more.”
I long for this day…
Today is the two-hundred and tenth day of M.M.X.I.V. That makes thirty weeks.
Today is the fifteenth day of the Character Building Trials. That makes two weeks and one day.